A spectacular image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) gives us a glimpse into how the Sun will look at its death.
Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope is among the most powerful and versatile tools astronomers have at their disposal even to this day. On Monday, the European Space Agency released a photo taken bu Hubble’s WFPC2 of the planetary nebula Kohoutek 4-55 that reminds us that nothing under the sun lasts forever — but the star itself also abides by that saying.
This photo is a composite image of three individual shots taken at specific wavelengths, to allow researchers to distinguish light from particular gas atoms. The red wavelength corresponds to nitrogen gas, blue to oxygen and green signifies hydrogen.
At the center of the colorful swirl of gas is a star, about the same size as the sun, on the throes of death. The star is about as massive as the sun. As stars age and consume their fuel, the nuclear reactions that produces their light and warmth start to slow down; The irregular energy patterns of energy production causes aging stars to pulsate irregularly making them eject their outer layers.
As the outer layers of gases are released the star’s core is revealed, giving of massive amounts of UV light. That radiation is responsible for the glow of the gas and the nebula’s beauty.
The sun is anticipated to behave in a similar manner to the Kohoutek 4-55 star,ejecting its outer layers to reveal its core — until it gradually cools down into a white dwarf. The image allows scientists a glimpse the distant future of our sun, expected to die off 5 billion years from now.
“By that time, Earth will be long gone, burnt to a crisp as the Sun dies,” ESA wrote. “But the beauty of our star’s passing will shine across the Universe.”